A CLOUD of uncertainty continued to hang over the bulk of the COSAFA teams after only one side from Southern Africa — surprise packages Madagascar — managed to secure their 2019 African Cup of Nations berth by the end of the penultimate round of qualifiers on Sunday night.
Thirteen countries have so far booked their places at the jamboree scheduled for Cameroon next June.
With just over half the available slots gone after the organisers expanded the participants to 24 nations starting next year, North and West African nations have dominated the qualifiers.
And from the COSAFA region, debutants Madagascar, who booked their place with two games remaining last month, have been the torch bearers ahead of regional heavyweights such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola, Zambia and Namibia.
Mozambique, Lesotho and Comoros still have mathematical chances. But former champions Zambia have been the biggest casualties in these qualifiers as they have been eliminated together with Malawi, Swaziland, Botswana and Seychelles going into the final round matches.
Zimbabwe, who were the sole regional representatives from the region at the 2017 finals in Gabon, missed on a realistic opportunity to wrap up the campaign when they succumbed to a 1-0 defeat in Liberia.
While the Warriors will now have to wait for the last game of the campaign against Congo-Brazzaville at home in March next year to seal their fate, first timers Madagascar are already warming up in the company of some of the continental bigwigs like hosts Cameroon, Egypt, Tunisia, Senegal, Nigeria, Algeria, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Morocco and Mali, Madagascar.
East Africans Uganda have also had an unblemished campaign along with Mauritania, who are going to the AFCON finals for the first time.
But Southern Africa are still hoping for more representatives after the organisers CAF announced they were increasing the teams from 16 to 24 starting next year, opening the doors for many teams and increasing the chances for everyone.
Madagascar could afford to lose at home at the weekend when they went 3-1 down to fellow minnows South Sudan. South Africa still amplified their chances with a 1-1 home draw with Nigeria, which took them to nine points, two better than Libya whom they face in the decisive game.
Angola also did themselves a big favour with a 2-1 home win over Burkina Faso to take second place in Group I behind surprise packages Mauritania.
They travel to Botswana, who are already eliminated, for their final match from which they also need an outright victory to be secure.
Namibia, tied on eight points with leaders Guinea Bissau, and Mozambique who have seven points also have great chances ahead of the decisive round. Despite encountering a setback in Monrovia, their penultimate assignment, the Warriors still lead Group G as they did from the start and they could have sealed their qualification with a home win over DRC last month, but they could only manage a draw.
And on Sunday, they needed only a draw and they suffered their first defeat in the campaign after falling to Liberian skipper William Jebor’s 72nd minute strike.
The Warriors missed a good number of scoring chances in the game and were duly punished.
However, team manager Wellington Mpandare yesterday told The Herald from Liberia that the players have remained positive.
“It was a very difficult game for us. Like the coach said, we didn’t play well. We were just not ourselves and a lot of things contributed to that.
“One, it was the travelling. It’s a bit far from Zimbabwe to Liberia considering the available routes. This is probably why teams from other regions such as ours find it difficult to come out with a result because of the number of hours that one would take to get to Liberia. Secondly, the pitch was terrible and the weather was very hot and humid. So it was very difficult to play 90 minutes without getting affected. The first minutes were okay, but they struggled with the conditions after the first half.
“But we are happy. Although we lost, we are still on top of the group. We have to finish the job next March against Congo-Brazzaville where we need nothing less than a win.
“Of course a draw will take us through, but we need an outright win at home, in front of a packed National Sports Stadium.
“So we are still in it. The boys of course were very low yesterday after the game, but we talked to them and sort of highlighted to them that this is a difficult hunting ground.
“This is why DRC could not come out with a win when they came here, Congo-Brazzaville as well could not win. A lot of teams have struggled against Liberia when they are playing at home.
“Also the motivation part of it; they were actually promised US$30 000 for a win by the president.
“It’s always very difficult against a team playing at home and have been promised US$30 000 by the president. All the same, we hope to wrap it up when we play against Congo-Brazzaville in March,” said Mpandare.
Warriors cheerleader Chris “Romario” Musekiwa said Zimbabwe should invest in preparations and also urged the leadership to source incentives for the players ahead of the clash against Congo.
“We just need thorough preparations for the final match. It’s high time the corporate world come in handy, the team is on the verge of qualification. They need everyone’s support morally and financially.
“Motivation is a basic need, hence the corporate world should come with exciting incentives to win the last match. Look at Liberia, US$30, 000 was at stake for each player for a win.
“We don’t have such money here, but we have things like State land in abundance. Government through the relevant ministries can offer low density stands to each member of the national team just for qualification as bonuses,” said Musekiwa.